Southampton University Officer Training Corps (UOTC)
Having spent the best part of the day before travelling, the group woke up on the first ‘walking day’ eager to start, albeit fairly grouchy from their first night’s sleep in a tent. Having packed away the tent for the first time, a slightly more arduous task than expected, eaten our first camp breakfast and had our first kit check the 3 groups piled into the transport to be dropped off at the starting point in Meiringen.
Having been promised an easy start to the expedition to ease the group into mountaineering, some of us were not so pleasantly surprised by the speedy pace set by the first team navigators. However all misgivings were forgotten as we arrived at the Reichenbach Falls, famously known as the site whereby Sherlock Holmes confronted Professor Moriarty in Sir Arther Conan Doyle’s novel ‘The Final Problem’. The site also proved to be the first of many ‘selfie’ opportunities seen throughout the expedition.
It was also on this first day that the ‘Team Rock’ phenomena began, the rules are as follows:
- The Team Rock must be carried by a member of the group at all times
- It can only be transferred to another member if they hadn’t been caught in the act
- The Team Rock must be placed securely within their bags, or the transfer does not count and the Team Rock must be returned to the original owner
However, seeing as the rock itself weighed approximately 2kgs, it was fairly noticeable if you had been ‘rocked’.
Having arrived at the campsite in Grindelwald, the group was pleasantly surprised to find the tents already erected courtesy of the Drivers. The evening was very relaxed, including a couple a drinks and the application of temporary tattoos before being briefed on the next day’s climb up Männlichen, followed by bed.
The second days walking began with a very steep incline out of the campsite, which some felt, including myself was a foreboding start to what was going to be a rather difficult day. I was not disappointed. The climb up to Männlichen solidified the fact that the previous day had only been a warm up for the days ahead. After was seemed like a lot of teeth gritting we reached the summit all with a strong sense of pride, unfortunately we could not enjoy the view for long as the cloud had crept up on us.
The way down the mountain proved to be just as difficult as the assent, and for some of the more height conscious members of the group, more so. The route down was a steep one, meandering across the slope on a narrow path, our view littered with avalanche barriers. Eventually the descent led us into a more forested area and it was here that brought a little humour back into the group after a strenuous day. Jake, our mountain leader and organiser of the expedition, a man with all the gear the rest of the group envied, found himself in possession of a boot without a permanent sole and had to resort to sniper tape to hold his boot together for the rest of the decent. Secondly, whilst taking a small break the CO was ‘rocked’, whilst he was sitting on his bag giving us all a pep talk about the day so far. Spirits a little higher we headed into Wengen and waited for what would be a slightly unusual train ride in comparison to British public transport. After the train journey with spectacular views, we were picked up by the transport and driven to what would be home for 2 nights.
That evening we headed up to Mürren via a cable car to meet Ann and David at their home. Having been suitably fed by all the food Ann had to offer, we ventured up to the local sports hall for a party which included beer, dancing, a band performance and more dancing. A good night was had by all.
The third day saw a slight split in the group as Jake and the CO climbed the Schilthorn as the rest of the group travelled to the Trummelbach Falls, a series of glacial waterfalls contained within a mountain which had to be accessed via tunnel lift. The falls were astounding and beauty and the power of them was appreciated by the whole group, especially the geographers among us. The relaxed cultural day continued as we returned once more to Mürren that afternoon to witness the parade throughout the town, which was then followed up by a dinner of Fondue, which everyone thoroughly enjoyed, the fact that the cheese Fondue itself was strongly alcoholic may have helped. After saying goodbye to Ann and David for the last time after or course a commemorative photo outside the restaurant, we descended once more to the campsite for our final night.
A day filled with a certain level of apprehension as it was the day of the most difficult climb so far as we were due to climb up to the Swiss Alpine Blüemlisalp hut at a height of 2840m. After leaving what had been our campsite for 2 nights we once again boarded our transport to the drop off point where our journey uphill began.
Although the majority of the day can only be described as ‘up’ some memorable portions of the day standout. When eating lunch at what was either a house that sells juice to passing strangers or a cafe that looked suspiciously like a house, Yellop was encouraged to eat some things not found in your average lunch diet. He rather bravely ate both a beetle and a cricket which was met with a mix of disgust and pride from the rest of the group. After lunch, whilst walking along a valley we obtained a temporary mascot, a goat we dubbed Darcy. Darcy followed our group for a good 500m and a good 20 goat selfies before we crossed a river that poor Darcy could not follow.
As throughout the rest of the expedition members of the group took it in turns to navigate, a task I had avoided until now. Alas my time had come, although the leg itself wasn’t particularly difficult as the only direction I had to consider was up. It did however include an obstacle not yet experienced on the trip so far, crossing a glacier, where the CO rather graciously suggested he go first to test the route. My leg of the journey over, the group then faced what seemed like the world’s longest and steepest set of stairs up to the mountain hut. On arrival of the mountain hut the group was a mixture of tired, relieved and proud of the day’s venture.
That evening within the mountain hut we held a ceremony to commemorate the passing of 100 years since Britain entered World War I in 1914. Responsibilties were shared throughout the group, reading passages and scripture to honour the war. The Team Rock even played a part in the ceremony as a centre piece holding the 3 candles used.
After the previous day’s climb the whole group was looking forward to a day of downhill walking to rest their aching legs. The journey down was fairly chilled as we took in the views of the glaciers which obviously provided a number of selfie opportunities which no doubt slowed our descent. After lunch we decided to take full advantage of the nearby glacial lake, changed into swimming gear and hire some paddle boats. Everyone got stuck in and really enjoyed the time despite the freezing water, which everyone ‘accidently’ fell into. After begrudgingly leaving the lake, we continued our descent down to the campsite at Kandersteg.
Our final walking day brought mixed emotions to the group, and although the ascent wasn’t as high as the one faced on Day 4 up to the mountain hut, it was still a fair climb to the summit of Bunderspitz. Either we were feeling particularly keen that day or we had finally got into the swing of walking because as a group we were making good time on the ascent, so much so that the CO suggested that we split into 2 groups, one keeping the steady state along the original route, the other took a slightly more challenging route across a scree slope. Eventually we met up just before the final ascent to the summit of the mountain, where there were many shameless photos taken and we left an note in the guest book situated at the top.
For some, including myself, the journey down the mountain was more difficult than the ascent, the steep downward spiral seemed never-ending. We did however reach the end of our final walking day and arrived at the barn in Adelboden where we would be spending the night. The hospitality of the owners was incredible, as was the accommodation, and food. After we were suitable stuffed silly after the best meal we had eaten in days the B Coy among the group provided a skit which had everyone in fits of laughter as the performed the most memorable parts of the trip so far with spot on accuracy in their impressions. The night was then rounded off with the classic ‘Paper Plate’ awards hosted by Toby which was a nice way to round off the expedition because although we had one day left, the walking days were behind us; the CO was due to leave the next day and everyone was in high spirits.
Waking up in the barn the following morning the group were in slightly hungover but excitable spirits, as the plan for the day was to visit a water park, a nice treat to spoil ourselves after the hard week of walking. But first we packed up all our gear, gave the transport a quick once over and then set off to what would be our final campsite in Berne. Having established out camp, we head off to the water park which could only be described as carnage as we took over the place.
Having exhausted the water park we returned to camp and that evening enjoyed the long awaited final night BBQ which got everyone involved and proved to be the most social evening of the entire expedition. The evening was filled of anecdotes of the trip, beer and most importantly, very good food. As good as the night was, it was also filled with sadness as it was the final night in Switzerland and the next day we would begin our travels back to Southampton where we would no doubt all face the ‘post AT blues’ and sicken our friends with tales of our times on Ex Inferno Tiger.